Friday, March 2

Matthew 14:13-21: The great significance of the multiplication of the loaves among the early Christians may be discerned from the fact that: (1) outside of the events of Holy Week, it is one of the very few scenes recorded in all four gospels; (2) aspects of it are depicted numerous times in the earliest Christian iconography; (3) normally recorded in language identical to, or at least reminiscent of, that of the Last Supper, it is clearly one of the events of Jesus’ life perceived to be weighted with the greatest theological significance. This is clearest in John, where it is accompanied by the lengthy and elaborate Bread of Life discourse.

This miraculous event brought to the minds of those present the expectation that the coming Messiah would renew the events of the Exodus, including the feeding of the people with miraculous bread in the wilderness. This sense of expectation and fulfillment accounts for the considerable emphasis on Messianic themes in early Eucharistic texts of the Christian Church.

Even as Matthew begins this story, we observe a significant way in which he alters the narrative in Mark. Whereas Mark (6:34), describes Jesus as “teaching” the people in the wilderness, Matthew says that Jesus “healed” them (verse 14). This change of perspective is consonant with Matthew’s other indications that Jesus had begun to withdraw from teaching the Jews in public and to concentrate, instead, on the immediate band of His disciples. Nonetheless, Jesus still expresses His messianic compassion through healing and feeding them.

Romans 10:14-21: The proclamation of the Gospel is the ministry of preaching, and this involves the authority of the preacher who is “sent” (verses 14-15; Acts 13:1-4). This “sending” has to do with “apostolicity,” a word derived from the Greek verb, apostello, “to send.” The sending forth to preach is the commission of the Church, a commission that the Apostles received from Christ (Matthew 10:5-15; 28:16-20; John 20:21). The transmission of this authority is known to Christian history as the “apostolic succession,” which means “the succession of those who have been sent.” It is the succession itself that transmits that authority, the singular identity of the apostolic ministry from one age to the next. The authoritative proclamation of the Gospel is derived from that historical succession, which is an essential component of the Church. All legitimate mission, therefore, is rooted in a proper succession. The Gospel authority is transmitted through the Spirit-guided handing-on of the being of the Church

Saturday, March 3

Matthew 14:22-36: We know from John (6:14-15) that considerable messianic expectation among the crowd followed on the miracle of the loaves. Jesus, knowing the spiritual weakness and worldly ambition of His disciples, immediately sent them away by boat, so that they would not succumb to this dangerous enthusiasm on the part of the crowd (verses 22-23). Meanwhile Jesus himself went off to pray alone.

It had already been late in the day when the miracle of the loaves took place (verse 15), and it was well into the night when Jesus finished praying. The apostles were out in the middle of the lake, rowing against the wind (verse 24). Some time between three and six o’clock in the morning (verse 25), while it was still quite dark, they suddenly beheld Jesus walking to them on the water. Indeed, he was “strolling” (peripaton)! The disciples took Jesus for a ghost or mirage (phantasma) and reacted accordingly (verse 26).

Although Mark (6:45-52) and (John 6:16-21) record this story, only Matthew includes the detail of Simon Peter’s semi-successful efforts to do the same. Reassured by Jesus (verse 27), he stepped off the boat and placed his foot solidly on a wave. His attempt was brought abruptly to finish when, taking his eyes off of Jesus, the apostle did what no Christian should ever do: he looked down! (Peter’s name means “rock,” and it has been remarked that this is the only scene in the gospels where we see him displaying a truly rock-like quality—he sank.) After attempting this “stroll” (peripatesan–verse 29), Peter found himself reprimanded for his inadequate faith (verse 31).

At the end, those “in the boat” confess Jesus as “truly the Son of God,” the defining confession of the Christian faith (see also Matthew 1:27; 16:16; 24:36; 26:63f, and, of course, 28:19). Like the Magi and so many other characters in Matthew’s gospel, they adore Him (14:33).

Romans 11:1-10: Paul has already suggested two considerations that qualify Israel’s rejection of the Gospel. First, the rejection was not complete, because a remnant of Israel remained faithful. Second, Israel’s defection proved to be a blessing for the Gentiles (much as Esau’s defection had proved a blessing for Jacob). The second of these considerations will receive a more ample treatment in the present chapter, as Paul subsumes it into an elaborate dialectic of history.
First, a sign of God’s irrevocable call is the Jewish remnant in the Christian Church (verse 5; once again, the “eschatological now”). Not even this remnant, however, is justified by the Law but by grace (verse 6).
Second, the falling away of Israel is only temporary. God has future plans for Israel. For the moment, however, Israel is acting in blindness (verses 7-8), which is the source of Paul’s sadness (9:1-2; 10:1). He observes that Israel’s blindness had been commented on by others before himself, such as Isaiah (verse 8) and David (verses 9-10). That is to say, Israel’s current defection had no shortage of precedents in the past. If God remained faithful to Israel back then, He surely remains faithful to Israel now and will manifest that fidelity in days to come. The course of history will prove the Jews to be God’s elect and predestined people.
Sunday, March 4

Matthew 15:1-20: When Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount, it was remarked that “He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” It did not take long for the scribes to take note of this, so there soon began a series of debates about Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah (9:10-15; 12:1-4). The series continues here.

The question about washing hands before eating bread (verse 2), we observe, follows closely on the story of the miraculous bread (14:13-21). In addition, it is soon followed by Jesus’ reference to the “children’s bread” (verse 26), a second account of miraculous loaves (verses 29-37), and another discussion about bread (16:5-12).

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and scribes left unanswered the question of the washing of hands before eating. It is taken up in verse 11, as this is a question of importance to Matthew’s Jewish Christians. The dominical principle is clear: Real purity is an internal reality, not a ritual compliance.

Romans 11:11-21: Paul introduces his metaphor of the olive tree in order to illustrate how it is that non-Jews find themselves as members the ancient plant of Israel. That is to say, how is it that “Abraham is the father of us all”?

The failure of most Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messiah is described by Paul as the lopping off of branches from the olive tree of Israel, and the entry of the Gentiles into the Christian Church he portrays as an engrafting of alien branches into the earlier stock. The tree, however, remains the same. The ancient calling of the Israelites has not been abrogated. It remains the root-work of the whole plant.

How should Christians react to this crucial development of salvation history? What should be their relationship to the Jews? Paul mentions two things, one negative and the other positive.

Negatively, Christians must avoid pride about their own engrafting into the ancient tree (verse 18). After all, it was by faith that they were engrafted; they had done nothing to deserve it. Divine grace should be received with reverence, not with smug self-satisfaction. The Christian must not look down on the Jew or give himself airs with respect to them. If the native branches themselves were lopped off of the tree, then the engrafted branches should be especially cautious, lest they too suffer the same fate (verse 21).

Positively, Christians should endeavor to make the Jews “jealous” (verse 14). Here is what Paul means: The first Gentiles joined the Christian Church because they were “jealous” of the blessings enjoyed by the Jews and were looking for an opportunity to share those blessings (verse11). Now it is time for the process to work the other way. It is time for the Christians to make the Jews themselves jealous! That is to say, Christians should live in such a way that the Jews will want to share in the blessings of the life in Christ, because the life in Christ is meant to be, in fact, their own inheritance.

Monday, February 5

Mathew 15:21-28: Matthew began his gospel by drawing attention to Jesus as “the son of David” (1:1). It was the name by which he was invoked by the blind men (9:27). Now it is by this title that the Canaanite woman addresses him (verse 22). Later on, this messianic designation will come more into evidence. It is the title by which He will be greeted in Jericho (20:29) and Jerusalem (21:9). The Lord’s acceptance of this title will rankle His enemies (21:15; 22:41-45). If it is striking to find “son of David” on the tongue of a Gentile, we should bear in mind Matthew’s earlier citation from Isaiah with respect to that Galilean border with Phoenicia (4:13-15; Isaiah 9:15).

In Matthew’s version of this story, the accent lies on faith: “Great is your faith” (verse 28; contrast Mark 7:9). The woman’s “great faith” is reminiscent of the earlier Gentiles in Matthew, such as the Magi and, more explicitly, the centurion in 8:10. This woman thus becomes a kind of first-fruits of Jesus’ final Great Commission to “all nations.”

Romans 11:22-36: The righteousness of God is not an abstract quality in God that obliges man to measure up. The righteousness of God is, rather, that activity of God that causes man to measure up. In dying on the cross, Jesus did not address Himself to God’s righteousness. On the contrary, He Himself expressed God’s righteousness. He was the expression, the very embodiment, of God’s righteousness.

Nonetheless, that popular distinction between God’s mercy and His justice, even though inadequate and misleading, seems to be an attempt to express a real difference, and that difference appears to be what Paul has in mind by distinguishing between God’s kindness and His severity (verse 22).

But just as it is possible for a believer to fall, it is also possible for an unbeliever to rise. The defection of the Jews, therefore, is not necessarily final (verse 23). Their return to the ancient tree would seem especially fitting (verse 24). Indeed, this is what God has in mind (verse 25). It is the “mystery” (mysterion) of His plan for the Jews, when history has run the proper measure of its course.

Truly, God’s plans for the Jews have never changed, because God keeps faith with the patriarchs, to whom He made so many promises. The Jewish people are still the apple of His eye (verses 28-29).

In the sin of Adam, God consigned (synekleisen) all to disobedience. This has been the history of the human race. God’s wisdom, however, and His fathomless counsel have so directed man’s disobedience as to bring about his redemption. All of this history He has guided in the direction of mercy (verse 32). All that He does He does in mercy. Paul finishes this chapter with a brief doxology to the divine mercy (verses 33-36).

Tuesday, March 6

Matthew 15:29-39: Like Mark, Matthew has a second account of the multiplication of the loaves. This account is often called “the multiplication for the Gentiles,” because of several elements in the story suggesting its transmission in a largely Gentile setting. For example, the Lord’s reluctance to send the people away suggests that they have come “from afar” (as indeed Mark 6:3 explicitly says), a common way in which the early Christians spoke of the calling of the Gentiles. Thus, Jesus is here portrayed as multiplying for the Gentiles the “crumbs” that the Gentile woman begged for in Matthew 15:27.

This bread is food for a journey—“on the way,” en te hodo–verse 32). The Lord feeds His people “in the wilderness” (en eremia–verse 33), as He did after their deliverance from Egypt. This bread, then, is the equivalent of the Manna that fell from heaven.

Romans 12:1-8: Here begins the “therefore” (verse 1) section of Romans, in which Paul enunciates the practical moral and ascetical inferences to be drawn from the dogmatic premises elaborated in the first eleven chapters (compare Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 2:1, and so forth).

Although the believer has been delivered from the works of the Mosaic Law, “the curse of the Law,” he has by no means been freed from the works of the Gospel. As the Sermon on the Mount repeatedly asserts, the works of the Gospel are far more demanding than the works of the Law (cf. Matthew 5:17-22,27-28,33-34,38-39,43-44, and so on). At baptism the believer assumes responsibility, and if he refuses to take that responsibility seriously he runs the risk of defection from the faith and being cut off from Christ (11:20-22).

Listed first here, among the components of this responsibility, is the duty of cultivating bodily holiness, because the body itself is the bearer of the Holy Spirit, who will in due course raise it from the dead (8:11). Paul is reviewing here the plea that he made for bodily holiness in 6:12-13,19-20. This ascetical effort he now describes in the imagery of sacrifice (cf. Philippians 4:18; 1 Peter 2:5).

This and moral ascetical effort, because it stands directly at variance with the standards, interests, and aspirations of the world, will also require an adversarial attitude toward the world. To the world the Christian must not “conform” (verse 2). The Greek word indicating worldly conformity here is syschematizesthe, in which the attentive reader will discern the root word, schema. The world, that is to say, tends to “schematize” human beings by imposing an outward pattern on them.

Wednesday, March 7

Matthew 16:1-12: The tension between Jesus and His antagonists rises to a new height in chapter 16, beginning with their renewed demand for a sign (verses 1-4; cf. 12:8). This demand is the occasion of the Lord’s criticism of them (verses 5-12) and the first prophecy of their role in the Passion (verse 21). In demanding this sign, these enemies copy the example of the devil (4:2,6). In contrast to the faith of the recent Canaanite woman (15:28), this demand indicates unbelief.

We likewise note here Matthew’s inclusion of the Sadducees among the enemies of Jesus (verses 1,6,11,12). Once again Matthew’s text here reflects certain concerns that arose in Judaism (and consequently among Jewish Christians) after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Foremost among the Jewish groups who lost credibility in the aftermath of that event was the party of the Sadducees. This group, it was generally believed, had been excessively compliant with the Roman powers for over a century, too compromising, too little disposed to speak up for the people as the Pharisees had done. Consequently, after the year 70 the Sadducees came into bad odor among rank-and-file Jews.

Moreover, this party was bound to lose power, because their power had been concentrated in the temple priesthood, which was put out of business by the destruction of the temple. In Matthew we observe (three times in these verses, and elsewhere in 3:7; 22:34) explicit criticisms of the Sadducees not found in the other gospels. Mark (12:18) and Luke (20:27) mention the Sadducees only once each.

The present encounter of Jesus and His enemies introduces a brief dominical discourse about bread. This discourse summarizes the two occasions when Jesus multiplied the loaves.

Romans 12:9-21: With respect to the works of the Gospel, these verses provide a lively list. Among the duties and disciplines enumerated here, we observe that most have to do with the mutual relations among Christians (verses 9-10,13,16), though certain of these particulars also look to relationships outside the communion of the Church (verses 14,17-21).

Christian love is genuine—literally “un-hypocritical,” anypokritos (verse 9); it goes beyond the civility and politeness required in a decent society.

Thursday, March 8

Matthew 16:13-28: This text presents the definitive answer to the major and defining question of the Christian faith, the true identity of Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Because this confession of faith was (and still is) regarded as the foundation stone of the Christian Church, the nickname “Rock” (perhaps closer to “Rocky” in English) was given to the man who made it, Simon Bar Jonah (or, in English, “Simon Johnson”). It was in Simon’s fishing boat that Jesus was earlier confessed to be “truly the Son of God” (14:33), so that his boat becomes in the gospels a great symbol of the Church.

Earlier, Matthew had touched on the suspicion that Jesus was really John the Baptist returned to life (cf. 14:1-2). He returns to it now (verse 14). We should find it significant that some of the Lord’s contemporaries resorted to prophetic history as a way of explaining Jesus. He resembled the prophets more than anyone else they could think of. Elijah, after all, had never really died, and his return was still expected (cf. Malachi 3:1,23).

Matthew also includes Jeremiah, whom he regarded as a “type” of Christ. Besides here, Jeremiah is mentioned by name two other times in Matthew (cf. 2:17; 27:9). In addition, Matthew several times alludes to Jeremiah, who is clearly one of his favorites.

When Jesus addresses the view of the disciples themselves (verse 15), it becomes clear that what is sought is the identity of Jesus Himself. The “you” in this question is plural and emphatic. That is to say, the disciples are being contrasted with everyone else. The distinguishing mark of true discipleship is the perception of who Jesus is.

Although all the disciples are addressed, it is Simon who answers (verse 16), as the spokesman for all the apostles. Throughout the Gospels he is the only one who ever serves in this way.

Peter’s confession itself is far more ample, precise, and developed here than in Mark and Luke, and it corresponds more closely to the full Christological confession of the Christian Church. It confesses a great deal more than Jewish Messianism (Compare 21:37-38; Hebrews 1:1-2).

What Peter confesses cannot be humanly known; it transcends “flesh and blood” (cf. 11:25-27—observing the same verb, “reveal”). What we have here is a description of the faith of the Church (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).

Such is Jesus’ assessment of the answer Peter gives to His question, “Who do you say that I am?” The orthodox answer to this question is the matter of divine revelation. The confession follows the vision. The Church testifies to what She knows.

Friday, March 9

Matthew 17:14-23: Whereas Matthew greatly simplifies and shortens Mark’s version of this story in the narrative parts, he actually amplifies the “saying” part of it in verse 20. He does this in two ways: (1) He inserts here the Lord’s reference to faith as a mustard seed, a dominical saying found in quite another context in Luke 17:6; (2) Jesus here speaks of the disciples’ “small faith” (oligopistia). We saw earlier that this New Testament expression, “small faith,” either as a noun (here only) or an adjective, is found almost exclusively in Matthew; cf. 6:6; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8 (otherwise only in Luke 12:28). Faith, according to Matthew, is understood as trust in the authority (exsousia) of Jesus (8:9-13; 9:2). Miracles are said to be worked by faith (9:20-22, 28f). In three scenes where Mark and Luke do not do so, Matthew portrays Jesus as saying, “as you have believed, so be it done to you” (8:13; 9:29; 15:8).

When the man approaches Jesus (verse 14), he kneels down—gonypeton, literally “bending the knee”—before Jesus. That is to say, he assumes before Jesus the posture of prayer (contrast Mark 9:14-17). Like Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, he kneels before Jesus in prayer. This is the second time in two consecutive scenes in Matthew where kneeling is the proper posture in the presence of Jesus. In Matthew, then, the scene is one of worship and prayerful petition. And what does the man say to Jesus when he kneels down? Kyrie, eleison! — “Lord, have mercy!”

This kneeling down, or prostration, in prayer is not simply a generic act of worship. It is specified by its Christological reference. Indeed, in the former scene, the Transfiguration, the disciples fall into this posture when they hear the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as His Son. Their posture is a theophanic response (cf. Revelation 1:16-17). Here in Matthew (verse 15) the man bends the knee Avton–“towards Him.”

Romans 13:8-14: Paul returns briefly to the Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic Law. Does Christian freedom imply that believers are no longer bound by the Decalogue? Hardly, says Paul, but the general Christian command to love one’s neighbor as oneself more than adequately summarizes those components of the Decalogue that concern our fellow man. That is to say, even the Decalogue is now read through a new lens.

Once again Paul speaks of salvation as reality that lies yet in the future, a future that is now closer than when we first became believers. (verse 11). As we have seen repeatedly, in Romans the vocabulary of salvation is commonly associated with the return of Christ and the general resurrection of the body.
Meanwhile, Christians are to “wake up” to the newness of life in Christ (verses 11-12; 1 Thessalonians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 15:34; Ephesians 5:14).